THERE'S HOPE that Danielle Marie Nuttall-Ravert is simply running from a stressful life and trying to start over, all by herself, somewhere far from New Jersey.
Her family can almost picture it sometimes, but then reality brings them to tears again.
Nuttall-Ravert, 31, a waitress from Trenton, hasn't been seen or heard from by her family since she was captured on video stepping out of a cab at a busy transportation terminal in Camden about 12:30 a.m. Sept. 7.
"It's a big, huge void - it's huge," said Danielle's mother, Mary Ann Ravert, as she twisted her fist against her chest and cried. "It's constant and it never goes away."
Mary Ann Ravert and the rest of the close-knit family say that Nuttall-Ravert isn't the type of person who could leave everything behind:she never would have willingly abandoned her only "daughter," a pit bull named Princess. Her heart wouldn't have allowed more than a few days to pass without checking in with her 86-year-old grandfather, a former Marine who still cuts hair in his Chestnut Hill barber shop.
Trenton police have been presented with dead ends at every turn in the case, all while juggling a few mysteries:
_ A large pool of blood found in Nuttall-Ravert's apartment.
_ A male roommate who passed a polygraph test.
_Two uncashed paychecks still sitting at the Hamilton Township, Mercer County, restaurant where she was beloved by co-workers and customers.
Investigators say that the blood in the apartment was old, but is being tested at the New Jersey State Police lab. The uncashed paychecks are just as troubling, they say, because they don't fit the mold of a woman who was battling her drug addictions and depression again.
"She was tired with the way things were going with her life," said Capt. Joseph S. Juniak, of the Trenton police. "But to get away from life without contact with family and friends, to change your routine, or even not get arrested is unlikely."
Reasons to run?
Police say that Nuttall-Ravert had reasons to run. She had an upcoming court date, which they say she mistakenly believed could land her jail time. She had prior convictions in New Jersey for drug offenses.
Nuttall-Ravert also was entangled in an abusive relationship with a man who had been in and out of jail many times. The boyfriend, police said, was in jail at the time of Nuttall-Ravert's disappearance, but they say his manipulation may have been the reason she took a taxi from Trenton to Camden, hoping to get to Atlantic City.
Nuttall-Ravert had done it before, transforming herself from whatever legitimate career she had during the week to a woman who sold her body on weekends on the streets of Camden and Atlantic City. She used the money to feed her heroin habit and funnel money back to a wannabe pimp, police said.
"She had been trying to break up with him for a long time," Mary Ann Ravert said. "He hit her and she had him arrested. He was a control freak."
Nuttall-Ravert, who once had been married, had been arrested before for prostitution in Atlantic City, and investigators note that four prostitutes were found dead in a marsh not far from the glittering neon of the casinos a little more than two years ago.
"They've been on high alert down there because of those homicides, but we still have no proof that anything like that has happened to her," Juniak said.
Investigators have visited Atlantic City and Camden several times but have come away with nothing. They have checked hospitals, shelters, jails and even morgues. Recently, they checked up on a tip that a woman was living in a sewer pipe in Morrisville, Bucks County.
"Each and every lead we've worked has resulted in negative results," Juniak said.
It's possible that Nuttall-Ravert died in any one of Camden's thousands of abandoned buildings. Police say her cell phone shut off there about a half-hour after she arrived.
"No matter what, someone knows something and they haven't come forward," Juniak added.
Swam at Plymouth-Whitemarsh
The dark side of the story - the drugs, prostitution, abusive relationships and even possible death - is difficult to talk about for the people who knew Nuttall-Ravert before troubles plagued her life.
Their Danielle grew up in Conshohocken, and later played in the marching band and was on the swim team at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School.
They remember a girl who became a manager at a gas station, who later turned into a woman who managed a buffet at the Tropicana Casino. She liked music, old television shows and popcorn.
When she was presented with a problem - even drug addiction - she fought back with tenacity, her family said.
"When you meet her, you remember her," Mary Ann Ravert said.
Above all, she loved her dog.
"She always wanted to have kids and she couldn't, and that dog was her baby," said her sister, Priscilla Ravert, who moved from Florida to be with her family again. "She sniffs all of us when we come, to see if we've been near her."
Just like Princess, Nuttall-Ravert's family is always looking and waiting for everything to be fine.
"I'll be driving down the street and think, 'Oh, my God, is that her?' " Mary Ann Ravert said.
"And I'll hear a knock on the door," her father, Bill Ravert, said, "and think, 'It's Danielle, she's come home.' "